“Pick one fencepost, and just keep going towards it.” This was Dad’s version of slow and steady, I guess. I was only eight, a quarter of the age of the tractor, but I was excited. I was getting to drive. And drive a tractor. Dreams do come true…
The tractor was digging a narrow trench in which we would lay PVC water lines for a new cattle tank, using what is basically a giant chainsaw that goes about three feet into the ground. If you just keep the hood ornament on the tractor lined up with that one post, well, two points make a straight line. Dad put everything in motion, and set me in the seat, and took off. I was going substantially less than half a mile per hour.
The tractor was a mess of rough metal levers and pedals. If there were ever rubber grips on them, they were gone now. Same with any labels explaining what things did. I had no idea how to speed up or slow down, or stop. I’m sure he was watching constantly, however far off he was, but as far as I was concerned I was all alone on this incomprehensible thing, being carried along inevitably towards some distant…post.
I was not good at pointing the tractor towards the post. I second guessed myself, as to which one Dad really wanted me to go to. His finger seemed to be pointing somewhere different everytime I tried to follow it. I kept wanting to watch the big chainsaw dig, and I’d look up and be pointed towards a far off tree, or a windmill. I’d overcorrect, then go back to looking behind me. I’d have a long run straight at one post, then think maybe the tree was what he meant all along. We barely got the pipes to sit in the zig-zag I left behind me.
I knew I’d screwed up when Dad came to get me. I don’t think he made a big deal of it; the trench was finished, and he shut the tractor off. It had been hours (at least one, but hey, I was eight) in the heat and the noise and the vibrations. I felt undeserving when he bought me a Coke, and the next time I had a chance to drive a tractor, I didn’t take it. There was guilt in not trying again, and I think it created a distance between me and…all that.
Dad has a picture of me on that tractor somewhere in his office. It was always this combined source of pride and shame. I compared myself to the kind of person who’d say “I could drive a tractor before I could walk”, or whatever, and I felt like a fraud. I was supposed to be a farm kid, but I drove a tractor once and kind of gave up for years afterward. But Dad kept that picture up…
It occurs to me that he may not have viewed the whole thing the same way. He very well may have driven by that waterer every day thinking, “I built that with my son.” And there are dozens of other little projects all over the farm that tell the same story. So maybe there’s something to looking at things that way. This thing is slow and inevitable. You’re going to keep losing focus and second guessing yourself, but no matter how left alone you might think you are, someone will be there. So pick that fencepost, and keep going.